28 November 2014
Friday 28 November
Working with youth clubs and young people every day, always with an eye on the future, it can be easy sometimes to forget that the traditions and principles upon which London Youth and our member clubs are built go back over 100 years.
But this rich history is alive and well in many youth clubs which have been around almost as long – and sometimes even longer than we have. Learning from the past is an essential part of the process of getting things right in the future, and so we’re delighted to announce that our vibrant story, and that of our member clubs, has now been meticulously researched and engagingly told in a new book, ‘Getting On With It’ by Dr Terry Powley.
Terry is a former Trustee of London Youth, with a long history of involvement with youth clubs, including as a board member at Samuel Montagu Youth Centre in Greenwich. We asked Terry to write a short piece giving a flavour of the book, which you can find below.
Durability, Tenacity and Innovativeness
When my time as a trustee of London Youth came to an end in 2011, I decided to fulfil my long-held aspiration to write a history of the organisation. When I began, nobody seemed to know where the archives of the London Federation of Boys’ Clubs and the London Union of Youth Clubs were held, but I eventually tracked them down to the London Metropolitan Archives. This isn’t the place to summarise all the themes, events and activities described in the book, but I will attempt to identify three characteristics which emerge from the narrative as defining features of London Youth over the decades – and centuries!
The first characteristic is durability. This is fairly self-evident, given that the Girls’ Club Union was founded in 1880 and the Federation of London Working Boys’ Clubs and Institutes in 1887. But that durability owes much to the organisation’s capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. Fundraising is an example of this adaptability. The book illustrates how London Youth’s funding strategy has undergone four cycles. The first, from the 1880s to the 1910s, relied solely on membership subscriptions (a penny a week in 1888!) and individual donations.
The second cycle was reflected in a drive after the First World War to diversify beyond individual benefactors to include a national appeal, support from City Livery companies and the establishment of the Co-operative Sports Supply Association to sell sports equipment to clubs. The third cycle was the injection after the Second World War of statutory support from Government and local education authorities – the first headquarter grants, the London County Council’s introduction of salary grant-aid in 1947 and its initiation of a comprehensive system of maintenance grant-aid in 1962.
The fourth and current cycle began in the 1990s when regular central government support ceased and local education authority was significantly reduced under the pressure of stringent budget cuts. Time-limited and targeted funding regimes replaced the traditional and more open-ended grant system.
The second attribute is tenacity. London Youth has a reputation for a practical and persistent approach to all that it does. The reason why I chose ‘Getting On With It’ (an exhortation from an old annual report) as the title of the book is not just because ‘The History of London Youth’ would have been a bit boring but because it seems to me to capture that sense of realistic and pragmatic endeavour associated with the organisation and its many clubs and projects.
The third characteristic is innovativeness. In many ways, the organisation in the past has been subjected to the charge of being traditional. The attempt of the manager of the Eton Manor Boys’ Club in 1912 to set up a Junior Bachelor Society substantiates this point. His members were asked to sign a pledge that they would not ‘walk about with girls’ until the age of 18. If a boy broke this rule, he was tried by the society’s members and punished. The records do not reveal what form that punishment took!
Yet the organisation in all its manifestations has been constantly innovative: advocating the introduction of Labour Bureaux in the 1890s; arguing in the 1920s for the raising of the school-leaving age; pressing for a more comprehensive system of medical inspection in the 1930s; initiating new approaches to the rising level of unemployment in the 1970s; and, more recently in this century, establishing an anti-gangs project to combat a growing problem of the times.